Household activities and Aztec conquest Weaving and cooking were ...

By Roger Warren,2014-07-01 01:25
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Household activities and Aztec conquest Weaving and cooking were ...

Household activities and Aztec conquest

    Weaving and cooking were central activities in Aztec households, and in Aztec women’s lives. In this

    exercise, you will analyze data to explore how the growth of the Aztec empire affected these activities. Background information

     Weaving in Aztec Mexico

    Cloth was woven out of two different fiberscotton and fiber extracted from the maguey cactus.

    Maguey fiber was spun more coarsely, using heavier spindle whorls, while cotton was spun finely, using small whorls supported in small bowls. After spinning, this thread would be woven into cloth using a back-strap loom.

    Aztec women wove cloth for their family’s use—in the case of commoners, this cloth was most often

    made of maguey fiber. They also wove cotton or maguey cloth for tribute to local lords and Aztec rulers. Cloth was also woven for sale at markets.

    Archaeologists find two types of spindle whorls at Aztec sitessmall ones, weighing less than 10 g. with

    diameters of 2-4 mm. and large ones, weighing more than 10 g. with diameters of 6-12 mm. It is fair to assume that the small whorls were used to spin cotton and the large whorls were used to spin maguey.

     Cooking in Aztec Mexico

    Figure 1 shows an Aztec mother teaching her daughter to cook; in this image we see the key equipment in an Aztec kitchen: a hearth, a grinding stone, a griddle or comal, and an olla or cooking pot. Maize was

    first mixed with lime to soften the hulls and make niacin available to human digestion. After soaking, maize was ground and mixed into tortillas, a staple of the Aztec diet.

    Tortillas were toasted on the griddle, a labor-intensive process that was nonetheless central to Aztec meals at home and away from home (since tortillas could be carried to the fields or other worksites). Griddles were also used to toast portable provisions for war called pinolli. Griddles, then, were used for

    portable dry foods, both staples and special-occasion foods.

    Tortillas were supplemented by sauces and stews made from chiles, beans, vegetables, and meats, and by atole, a liquid of boiled maize. Pots were used to prepare these dishes, as well as special, complex dishes like tamales. Pots were used for less portable, but generally less labor-intensive wet foods, both staples and special occasion foods.

    Since pots and griddles represent the preparation of different foods that place different constraints on cooks, it is safe to assume that the relative numbers of pots and griddles at a site will reflect the priorities of that community’s cooks.


    Archaeological research

    This exercise is based on data from five Aztec sites: Xico, Huexotla, and Xaltocan in the Valley of Mexico, and Coatlan Viejo and Xochicalco/Coatetelco in the modern state of Morelos, southwest of the Valley of Mexico (see Figure 2). Before Aztec conquest, Xico was an island on Lake Chalco in the heart of the Valley of Mexico’s chinampa agricultural zone, Huexotla was a powerful independent domain located on the fertile piedmont, and Xaltocan was the capital of a powerful polity located in a region of more limited agricultural production. These three communities fell under Aztec rule in the early 1400s, so it is possible to compare Early Aztec (Early Postclassic period, prior to Aztec conquest) and Late Aztec (after Aztec conquest) periods at these sites.

    Data from Xochicalco and Coatetelco have been combined herethese two sites were located about 80

    km from Tenochtitlan and were occupied before and after Aztec conquest of the Morelos region. Coatlan Viejo, located 90 km from Tenochtitlan, is a Late Aztec site in Morelos. The tables below show some data recovered from these two sites: counts of large and small spindle whorls, ceramic rims, and fragments of pots and griddles, in Early and Late Aztec periods. You will use this data to explore the effects of Aztec conquest on household labor.

     Large spindle whorls Small spindle whorls Total ceramic rims


    Site Early Aztec Late Aztec Early Aztec Aztec Early Aztec Late Aztec

    Valley of


    Huexotla 11 44 10 37 3582 27720

    Xaltocan 7 2 6 7 6661 6418

    Xico 1 0 5 1 5062 2247


    Coatlan Viejo no data 13 no data 119 no data 5408

    Xochicalco and

    Coatetelco 3 2 2 12 2402 5006

     Pots Griddles

    Site Early Aztec Late Aztec Early Aztec Late Aztec

    Valley of


    Huexotla 192 481 579 1518

    Xaltocan 758 456 1213 1558

    Xico 722 170 467 562


    Coatlan Viejo no data 145 no data 139

    Xochicalco and

    Coatetelco no data no data no data no data


    Steps in your analysis

    1. Formulate a hypothesishow do you think Aztec conquest might affect communities in the Valley of Mexico and Morelos? (you might start by thinking about what the Aztecs might demand or require of community members).

2. Think about how the effects that you hypothesize might be seen in the dataif indeed Aztec

    conquest affected communities in the way you hypothesize, what patterns should you see in the data?

3. Analyze the data. The data tables give you raw counts—you can’t just compare counts of large

    and small spindle whorls between different sites, because the sample sizes are different. So, you’ll have to standardize the numbers to be able to compare them.

    a. For spindle whorl data: counts of rim sherds are often used in archaeology to

    standardize counts of other artifacts, since bigger samples will have more sherds and

    smaller samples will have fewer. Use the sherd count and the spindle whorl count to

    calculate number of spindle whorls per 1000 rim sherds for each site and period (the

    frequency of spindle whorls).

    Compare these frequenciesdoes spindle whorl frequency change from Early to Late

    Aztec periods? If so, how? Do all sites look the same, or can you observe differences in

    how activities at different sites changed? What might these changes mean in terms of

    people’s activities?

    b. For pot and griddle data: the best way to compare relative numbers of pots and griddles

    is to calculate the pot-to-griddle ratio. For each site and period, calculate the number of

    pots per 100 griddles (the same as calculating pots as a percentage of griddles).

    Compare these ratiosdoes the pot-to-griddle ratio change from Early to Late Aztec

    periods? If so, how? Do all sites look the same, or can you observe differences in how

    activities at different sites changed? What might these changed mean in terms of

    people’s activities?

    4. How do your answers to Question 3 relate to the hypothesis and expectations you outlined in Questions 1 and 2? Were your expectations met, or not met? What do your findings suggest about the effects of Aztec conquest in different parts of the empire?


    5. Write a 2-4 page essay that synthesizes your answers to Questions 1-4 above. Include a chart showing the spindle whorl frequencies and pot-to-griddle ratios you calculated (the chart doesn’t have to show the raw counts, just the numbers you calculated). Make sure you

    thoughtfully and precisely answer all the questions above, and make sure your essay is clearly written, well organized, and flows well.

Figure 1. Aztec woman teaching her daughter how to cook


Figure 2. Locations of Aztec sites


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